Mon | Nov 30, 2020

Patria-Kaye Aarons | Sometimes the best things are free

Published:Monday | February 26, 2018 | 12:00 AM

It's been difficult to find real moments of joy. Ever since Rovi died, no one who loved him has been the same.

In search of escape and even temporary distraction, Kwasi, my boyfriend, and I decided last Sunday to check out a concert at Victoria Pier. Smack dab in the middle of Reggae Month, it was really a celebration of Dennis Brown.

A slew of popular acts were on the line-up: Freddie McGregor, Tony Rebel, Iba Mahr, Ken Boothe, Alaine, and the list goes on. The idea behind the show was that each would perform one of their own hit songs as well as their favourite D-Brown track. Kwasi and I figured that there was nothing the Crown Prince's music couldn't soothe, so we would go.

There was one tiny reservation, however. The concert was free.

Talk the truth. What do you conjure up in your mind when you think 'free concert'? I've seen people behave utterly disgracefully over free Andrews salts. They pushed down old ladies and trampled small babies just for a packet of taste-bad medicine. I imagined how much worse they would behave at the chance to see their music idols for free - dung a town! One hot mess, free-for-all.

Never the type to back down from an adventure, off we went, in spite of conventional wisdom. You see, the adage 'anything free nuh good' had been drummed into both our psyches our whole lives, followed closely by, 'If you want good, your nose haffi run.' We had reservations about just how good this free show could possibly be, but we had nothing really to lose by going. If the show turned out badly, it wasn't as if we would have wasted money.

Well, let me tell you, that free show was not good. It was excellent. Admission may have been free to patrons, but it was clear that money spen'. The production rivalled that of any of those with the $10,000 price tags. Kwasi, who is a stickler for clean audio, is still singing the praises of the sound quality. The stage looked top-notch and parking and security were flawlessly executed. The vibe was nice. People sang along to every track and danced in the middle of the street, and red, green, and gold flags billowed in the Kingston Harbour breeze.

The event was a treat not only for our ears and eyes, but our bellies as well. We bought the world's most delicious salt fish fritters from one of the vendors on site and washed them down with quarter chicken and two boxes of curried goat. Those weren't free, but I'm not at all complaining.

 

Scanty audience

 

Our only disappointment with the show was that the audience numbers were scanty. Nowhere near the hordes of people we feared would turn out. An excellent concert was made free for Jamaicans, and few actually got to enjoy it live.

The whole experience got me thinking about the bad reputation 'for free' had inherited. I wondered whether it was the 'anything free nuh good' notion that kept people away from the show. Or was it something else.

As I live-tweeted throughout the performances, responses I got from people made it clear to me that many who didn't come stayed away because they didn't know about the show. That saddens me. In a country where affordable family activities are difficult to come by, the show should have been full to capacity.

I've identified two problematic issues that arise with free. Too often, people don't know about the good freeness that exists because either it's kept as a big secret or people know about it and just don't use it up.

I hear about too many undersubscribed HEART programmes and foreign government scholarships and artiste tour grants and small business incentives and lonely public beaches and forgotten public parks. Knowing all too well that what you don't use, you lose, we all have an obligation to make use of the freeness provided as a show that they are things we actually have an interest in.

The music lover in me enjoyed last Sunday. I'd have willingly paid good money for the experience, but I'm glad I didn't have to. Though not quite ready to profess that the best things in life are free, 'free' isn't any longer a bastard word in my dictionary.

- Patria-Kaye Aarons is a television presenter and confectioner. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and findpatria@yahoo.com, or tweet @findpatria.